Crescendo, Calling, and Country: Harmonizing Leadership and Service with Joy

With both parents working as music educators, it would seem Matthew Yee’s ’24 musical journey was orchestrated from conception. “I like to say music has been part of my life from day one. It was just part of being at home. And so, playing an instrument or singing was never really a question. It wasn’t ever forced on me, but it was something that I knew I wanted to do,” he says. 

Matthew Yee and friends at the Golden Gate Bridge

From listening to music throughout his childhood to joining the choir in kindergarten (of which his mom was the director throughout junior high) to picking up the euphonium in the fifth grade, auditioning and being accepted into the United States Air Force Band, and now accepting an offer to play in the U.S. Coast Guard Band, Matthew’s love for music rings true throughout every stage of his life. But music isn’t all that defines Matthew. A civil engineering and music double-major, Matthew began his college journey thinking engineering was most likely the more realistic path for his future career. Intrigued by infrastructure from an early age, Matthew found himself interested in roads and bridges while on the many cross-country road trips he and his family took during the summers. He would soon after find that the road to Valpo was quite literally paved for him since the beginning. Following the Lincoln highway connecting his hometown of Auburn, California, to Valparaiso, Indiana, Matthew began his Valpo journey in the summer of his junior year of high school as he set off to spend a month on Valpo’s campus attending Lutheran Summer Music (LSM), a program he would later call “a transformative experience.” 

Matthew Yee and friends in the Chapel of the Resurrection

At the time, much like most juniors in high school, Matthew was still considering what to pursue after graduation. Building upon his interest in infrastructure and his natural bent toward the sciences and mathematics, civil engineering seemed to strike a chord with Matthew as he considered the countless opportunities afforded in the promising field. Although he loved music, the competitive nature of musical professions and the limited applicability of his instrument of choice seemed cause for deprioritizing his musical pursuits and putting his wildest dreams to bed. While attending LSM, however, Matthew was inspired to dream despite the odds. 

Matthew Yee and a colleague posing with their musical intruments

“It came to the point where I had to decide how far I wanted to pursue music. LSM was really a big part of this transformative experience for me. It led me to wonder if music is something that I can (and want) to pursue seriously. One of my mentors at camp encouraged me that engineering is always going to be there to fall back on, but if I have any inkling to do music at all, I have nothing to lose right now. So I should just add music as a major, too. If I find that it works and I like it, great. If it doesn’t, I can just pare it back down to a minor, or I can just pursue it as a hobby or extracurricular.”

Trading in the perfectly designed blueprint of life as an aspiring engineer, Matthew added a music major to his college plans. And, after two life-changing summers at LSM, Matthew determined that there was no place like Valpo to pursue both his engineering education and his musical passions. He hasn’t missed a beat since. 

In typical Valpo fashion, Matthew quickly found more than a place to pursue his education and passions: he found a family in our Valpo community. Apart from engineering and music, Matthew considers his Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity brothers to be his much-needed support during this crazy college journey. “Joining a fraternity has been what I needed when I needed it. You need to take time for spontaneity in life. That’s what keeps you discovering, and discovering is what college is all about. So SigEp has helped fill that need,” he says. 

Matthew Yee and friends

The community support Matthew has experienced at Valpo didn’t end there. Just last September, Matthew was selected as the honorary student speaker for the 2023 Homecoming President’s Circle honors breakfast – and was asked to share his Valpo story. In considering how to tell it, he made this request to the selection committee: “Can I play a piece for them?” The answer he heard was the same one he has received throughout his entire Valpo journey: “Yes, you can!”

Matthew Yee playing the euphonium

Although Matthew’s undeniable commitment to his musical calling was instrumental in the success he experienced throughout his short but full life so far, Matthew admits his path was only made possible through the support of countless individuals who have encouraged, challenged, and inspired him over the years.

Matthew Yee

“Gosh, so many people have been a part of my journey. My first band director was extremely influential. Just the way he is, his mindset, his approach to performing arts and life in general. He had a way of just making it all so fun. Then, there was every single teacher along the way, from my teacher in middle school to the teacher who prepared me for college auditions to my LSM teachers and mentors and all the professors I’ve had at Valpo since. It’s sometimes not even the musical things. It’s the little things that they tell you and teach you about life. Each one of those people and lessons has been another stepping stone for me along the way. Plus, I’ve been blessed to have a lot of family support, too. There are no words to describe how grateful I am for my parents and sister. And not just my immediate relatives, but grandparents, aunts, and uncles, too. Yeah, it’s a lot of people who have helped me get where I am. I’ve been thinking about that a lot lately.”

Carrying this attitude into his Coast Guard audition experience, Matthew looked to the potential to join the most prestigious section of the military band with some nerves, but mostly excitement and overwhelming gratitude. Only six months prior, Matthew recalls being interviewed for a Valpo Snapshot feature and commenting on how if he were to make it to this point, it would be a dream come true. This pipe dream has turned into a real-life dream he is now living as he not only made it to the final stage of the highly competitive audition process, but on the morning of February 23, received the call that sealed the deal and would change his life forever – the call offering him the position in the U.S. Coast Guard Band!

Matthew’s immediate answer to the Coast Guard representative was the same one he received every time he asked if something was possible at Valpo: “Yes!”

Matthew Yee

Now, looking to the bright future ahead, Matthew can’t help but keep dreaming. What excites him the most isn’t getting to tell his story as much as hearing the stories of the brave men and women he will get to meet during his journey with the Coast Guard. “What originally inspired me about the military band was unlike most musical professions, in the military, you don’t simply walk off the stage after your performance. You walk into the crowd and get to meet the audience members and connect with them personally. They aren’t just appreciative of the entertainment you provide, they are thankful for the joy and hope you brought them through your music and they are compelled to share their stories with you in return. I can’t imagine anything more fulfilling than that,” he says.

Neither can we, Matthew. Lending your light by harmonizing leadership and service with joy is the very definition of a Beacon.

Matthew Yee '24 performing at the 2023 Homecoming President’s Circle honors breakfast.